This year my personal focus is on creating nucleus colonies to build up the number of local queens that I can then pass on to others later in the year. To do this I need to build up my current colonies with suitably tempered bees so that they can withstand me stealing some of their comb and brood. When I judge that a colony has begun to build up strongly, and a pollen flow has begun in the area, I can begin to make nucleii.
To build up the colonies I want to use I have to encourage them to make bees. To do this I use a process called ‘checker boarding’ when I add bars during the spring buildup. As the colony builds from its winter cluster the brood area of the nest begins to expand. To encourage this I add new bars between the existing bars in the nest area. This ‘one old, one new’ pattern forces the bees to build new comb and, crucially, encourages them to fill the comb with brood so that the nest doesn’t get segmented. I am usually able to start this around the end of April and, at the same time, take the first combs for a nuc colony.
The weakest part of a bee colony is the single point of failure represented by having only one queen. To counter this bees are able to create a new queen at any time they wish provided they have eggs in the colony that are less than 2-3 days old, the newer the better. So if a queen isn’t laying well, gets injured or dies, it can be replaced. Bee wranglers can use this talent to expand the number of colonies they have by creating a nucleus colony, also known as nuc, which is a mini version of a colony that grows to fill a new hive. In essence the aim is to create a mini colony knowing that some of the usual elements won’t be included. Flying bees are unlikely to be involved as they will fly back to the queen they know and, obviously, a queen won’t be there. So a few compromises have to be made to take account of this to ensure some success.
When choosing comb to use it is crucial to find comb with freshly laid eggs. When you hold up brood comb there should be some cells with very tiny white grains, like little grains of rice, sticking upright in the bottom centre of the cells; the smaller they are the fresher they are. Counter intuitively this will be most likely on comb with the oldest sealed cells where bees are just about to emerge. They will be surrounded by cells that have just hatched, cleaned out and propillised by nurse bees, and seeded by the queen who is desperately searching for cells to use as she is trying to lay up to 1000 eggs a day. Most of the bees on these combs will be non-flying nurse bees. The biggest danger to these eggs is dehydration which, because they are so small, can happen in minutes. So when you find a suitable comb slot it straight into you nuc box to get it out of the wind. From these eggs the bees will choose one to build into a queen cell. Always make sure you have not moved the queen accidentally as she may still be on this comb.
The next comb you are looking for is one with cells that have worker bees about to hatch. The nurse bees that you transfer now will become your flying bees over the next 2 weeks so the hatching ones will be your next generation of nurse bees. You need to find comb where most of the cells have a flatter wax seal, are darker brown and slightly crusty - you may be lucky and find a cluster of cells in the process of hatching. Again, slot that into your nuc box swiftly to keep as many nurse bees on the comb as possible. Once more, make sure you haven’t transferred the queen as well as she may also be on this comb.
The final component is stores to help the colony survive without bees to forage. You need to find a comb with, ideally, sealed honey or more likely stored pollen and nectar. When you’ve found one put that into you nuc box. The queen is unlikely to be on a stores comb provided it doesn’t contain any eggs or brood as well.
And that’s it. Easy peasy. We aren’t interested in flying bees so you can even have the nuc near your current hives without a problem. It takes 2 months for a new queen to be created, mated and get laying so if you get started now you should have viable colonies to house or pass on at the start of July.
So have a go. If you need a suitable nuc box let me know and I’ll make one for you. Making local queens from local well tempered colonies ensures the survival of bees that are ideal for this area and doesn’t risk introducing more diseases, parasites, etc.